DAVID GINSBURG, AP Sports Writer
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Cam Newton threw for 300 yards, Carolina’s running game was overwhelmingly effective and an aggressive defense forced three turnovers.
It was just like last year for the Panthers. Unfortunately for Carolina, there almost certainly will be no Super Bowl at the end of the season for the defending NFC champions.
Though the Panthers did just about everything right Monday night in a 26-15 win over the Washington Redskins, it’s been a rough encore for a team that went 15-1 before breezing into the Super Bowl.
Carolina (6-8) has battled through injuries, free-agent defections and inexperience at key positions. On Monday night, the Panthers showed just how good they can be when performing to their potential.
“For us, our challenge all year has been playing a complete game,” Newton said.
Battered, bruised and weary from a season’s worth of hard hits, the agile quarterback showed his frustration when he tossed the ball at Washington’s Trent Murphy on a play in the second quarter. Newton was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after Murphy roughed him up a bit as he was sliding to the ground.
“I’ve got to be better than that,” Newton said.
When it came to flinging the ball at his receivers, Newton was better than usual. He went 21 for 37 with two touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over.
He was backed by a solid running game led by Jonathan Stewart, who amassed a season-high 132 yards on 25 carries.
Throw in a defense that allowed only one touchdown, and you’ve got the 2015 Panthers.
“They loaded the box up, backers were shooting the gap,” Redskins tackle Trent Williams said. “That’s the same front seven they went to the Super Bowl with. That’s a good group of guys.”
The Panthers on Monday night looked nothing like the group that started 1-5 and got beat by such scores as 22-10 and 40-7.
“We had a bit of continuity,” coach Ron Rivera said. “We’ve got an offensive line that’s played together for what, four weeks now? We’ve got a group of young corners that have played together for five weeks now. We ran the ball very effectively today.”
Carolina has only a mathematical chance of getting back to the playoffs, but that’s not what drives the Panthers as the season draws to end.
Asked what the team is playing for, Newton replied with one word: “Wins.”
“We’re playing for a ton of pride and the guy next to us,” defensive end Wes Horton said. “Even if we didn’t have a playoff scenario, we’re still going to fight to the end. Our objective is to go undefeated the rest of the season.”
Rivera insisted upon it.
“Coach challenged us as man, as players, as professionals, to come out and do our job,” Newton said. “That’s what we tried to do today, and we did it.”
Newton arrived fashionably late for his postgame session wearing a pink hat, checkered suit, blue tie and sneakers — even though Rivera told the team they could travel home in sweat suits.
Newton said his attire was a tribute to Craig Sager, an NBA analyst who died recently of cancer.
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